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Tribes no match for kingpin Cats

WIN or lose, John McIntyre makes good copy and it was the same again yesterday after Kilkenny made it six Leinster titles on the bounce, 20 consecutive championship wins, and two steps from hurling heaven.

McIntyre's post-match eloquence, though, will be scant consolation to the Connacht Tribune sports editor as he mulls over this painful deconstruction of Galway's All-Ireland credentials.

"Ah, sure, we're all sick of looking at Kilkenny winning," the Galway boss lamented. "And I have no problem saying that -- I said it in their dressing-room after the game.

"But that doesn't erode my admiration of what they have achieved. That's not their problem; they're a fantastic team and, you know, we have to stand back and admire them.

"But all of us who are in the opposition corner want to lower their colours, take them down. There's a reason why they haven't been beaten since 2005, why they've now won 19 or 20 championship matches on the trot."

A quick check of the record books confirmed that the exact figure is 20. The last team to scalp the Cats in summer combat was Conor Hayes's goal-hungry crew in August 2005.

The prospect of this Galway team emulating that rare feat was not beyond the bounds of half-time possibility, when a strangely off-colour Kilkenny led by just three points -- but by the end of the third-quarter the gap had stretched to 10 and it was all over bar the Cats' ritual collection of the Bob O'Keeffe Cup.

Same old Kilkenny, then? Well, only partially so.

The champions were some distance off their stellar 2008 best, but it didn't remotely matter because Galway's regression of form since the National League final in early May continued unabated.

They have played four matches since then and not once played like a team destined to end the county's 22-year wait for Liam MacCarthy. But whereas they were still good enough to eventually ease past a limited Wexford and edge past Offaly following a gargantuan two-game struggle, the bar was raised yesterday and the Tribesmen were found sadly wanting.

Where Kilkenny are strongest -- as ball-winning magnets in the middle-third, especially in their own half-back line -- Galway weren't nearly competitive enough.

This fact is underlined on two fronts. Firstly, Kilkenny's 13th-minute goal: the angled finish from Henry Shefflin was millimetre perfect but where was the origin of the goal? Kilkenny winning a Galway puckout, and JJ Delaney duly arrowing a long-range missile that sped past Richie Power and Shane Kavanagh, straight to the ghosting Shefflin.



SUPREMACY

The second example of Kilkenny's primary ball supremacy is more general, but the end result was even more devastating than Shefflin's goal.

Here goes: Kilkenny demolished the Galway half-forwards during the third-quarter with the result that the margin stretched from a threadbare three points (1-8 to 1-5) to an unassailable 10 (1-16 to 1-6). Power's 53rd-minute point meant they had scored eight points to a solitary Ger Farragher free since half-time.

For Galway, there could be no way back -- not with their midfield and half-forward divisions blitzed, and not with Joe Canning now appearing a forlorn figure, starved of ball and frequently outnumbered, in the inside forwards.

Canning's near-total eclipse was not a complete surprise -- he only contributed in sporadic bursts during the Offaly games -- but it meant that an already daunting task for the challengers had become mission impossible.

For a long while, the unique possibility of a championship 'blank' for big Joe loomed large until he broke his duck in the 67th minute.

It was only with a late switch to wing- forward that Canning belatedly found some freedom: he set up an Eoin Lynch point, then pointed himself from play before completing the scoring with an injury-time sideline cut.

Afterwards, McIntyre defended the ploy of starting Canning at centre-forward. "We wanted to attack Kilkenny today," he explained.

"You would hear pundits and supporters and neutrals advising you not to play Damien Hayes at full-forward for the second week running, 'lightning never strikes twice.' But we felt, looking at the Offaly game, even though the other forwards were doing well in the replay, Joe was sort of marginalised at corner-forward.

"We felt one of the best ways to signpost our attitude on the day was to put him on the '40' and to carry the fight to Kilkenny. And I suppose it didn't work out really," McIntyre admitted.

"Our forwards struggled to win primary possession, but they kept battling. Everybody's disappointed in the Galway camp because we feel we didn't do ourselves justice.

"Now, how much of that is down to Kilkenny and the reality that they didn't allow us to do ourselves justice ... their workrate, their hunger, it's like as though they've won nothing."



TRUTH

The unpalatable truth is that this Galway team doesn't have sufficient forward quality to survive a Canning off-day against elite opposition. The same rule doesn't apply to Kilkenny who could afford an up-and-down day from their talisman: Shefflin tallied 1-7 in total, 1-2 from play, but he also had three misses in open play and mishit a 70-yard free (now there's a first).

King Henry wasn't the only Kilkenny forward whose radar was slightly off-kilter: the recalled Eoin Larkin was even more errant and, for the second game running, they amassed 17 wides.

"We are on a good run of wides, alright. TJ, what's the story there?" asked Brian Cody, turning to his adjacent skipper, TJ Reid, at the post-match press briefing.

On a more serious note, the Kilkenny boss added: "I would look on the positive side, that there were a lot of chances created.

"Some of the wides were ones that you would hope would not be happening too often. I don't worry about things like that. I would certainly worry if we were not creating chances."

For Cody, yesterday was all about getting the job done: straight access to the All-Ireland semi-finals, all of which means his team can achieve the fabled five-in-a-row by winning just four matches this summer.

On a provincial level, this was another Leinster six-in-a-row to go with the previous six-timer achieved in 2003. In 12 campaigns, Cody has now won an incredible 11 Leinster titles, and even Galway's much-touted arrival from the west hasn't broken the spell.

At times during the second quarter they appeared vulnerable, especially in the wake of Damien Hayes's scrambled 19th minute goal -- full-back Noel Hickey appeared to have fended off the danger, but 'keeper PJ Ryan hesitated and Hayes got the all-important touch.

But ultimately, Galway flattered to deceive. "No excuses, we were beaten by a better team today," McIntyre surmised, before signing off with a defiant promise: "I feel that we're better than that. We won't be as flat if we get another chance against them."


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